Monthly Archives: July 2013

Bossypants – Tina Fey

Book Description (Amazon):photo(3)

Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you boss.

My Review:
Executive Summary: unexpected (not necessarily in the good way)

We chose this book for the “comedy” category for book club. I was really excited to read it as I had heard a lot of good things. I’m (was) a casual viewer of 30 Rock, and I catch SNL from time to time (but haven’t watched it regularly since the 90s).

The book has an unusual set up and such can feel very disjointed. It wasn’t until about halfway through the book that I really started to get into it. It basically has one chapter on one subject topic followed by a few pages of “humor” and then repeated throughout the book. The chapters aren’t necessarily in chronological order nor are they connected in any way besides having happened to Tina Fey.

I didn’t find the stories about her childhood that entertaining or really that memorable. I was unaware that she had a facial scar (prob due to plastic surgery and photoshop) so that chapter was interesting, but it felt so nonchalant. I actually looked online to verify that it wasn’t just a joke. Even though I’m not a lot younger than Tina, I think that growing up in a more liberal household might have made a lot of difference. I had gay friends in high school, so the chapters about how weird it was hanging out with “the gays” in theater wasn’t something that I really related to. They weren’t weird or different to me. Just other friends.

Another thing that I didn’t enjoy was the discussions about looks. My assumption is that because Tina Fey is an atypical looking female celebrity, she must get asked about it a lot by vapid reporters. I get that she was trying to make the point that looks don’t really matter. But by drawing attention to it, she made it more apparent that they do.

But there were chapters that I enjoyed. I enjoyed the chapter about her dad. That was probably the only chapter in the first section of the book that I found interesting. And it explains a lot about her, I think.

About halfway through the book, the chapters become slightly more connected and start dealing with her life as a “grown up” (in age only perhaps 🙂 ) starting with her job at SNL. This is where I thought it got a lot more interesting. Specifically there were a few stories that I thought were really great that I’m going to summarize.

First, I found the part about the SNL commercials to be really a good story about bias and the importance of communication. Essentially, having one of the faux commercials for SNL is a big honor. They’re not filmed live and are filmed with better quality equipment so they can be kept and reused for future episodes. Apparently this was back when “Coca Cola Classic” (my mother still calls it that despite the fact that you can’t get any other coke except classic now) happened and marketers were trying to make nostalgia trendy again. Tina and Paula Pell (who actually wrote the commercial) were pushing for a throwback maxi-pad commercial showing the old 1960s maxis with the belt and everything poking out from some girls’ low rise jeans. Their commercial kept getting not selected, and finally because they were pushing so much on it, the producers sat them down and were like, “We realize that you think this is funny, so it must be, but we simply just do not understand it.” These men had no idea what maxi pads were like in the 60s and once it was finally explained to them (and the fact that you wouldn’t see blood in the commercial lol), they agreed to make that commercial. Basically sometimes when you think people are just being racist/sexist/biased against you, they might just not understand you. Ah, the power of communication. (Side note, I was explaining this to my husband and he didn’t realize that modern day maxi pads have a sticky side to keep them in place. So it’s pretty good likelihood that men just do not care to know about feminine hygiene products. I cannot say that I blame them.)

I really enjoyed the section where Tina talks about playing Sarah Palin. I found it really fascinating. From the bits about her studying Sarah’s dialect (and avoiding words she couldn’t quite get right) to the discussion of how Tina was berated for making fun of Sarah (although the male actors who played presidential candidates never were). I enjoyed the discussion of the skit that had “Sarah” and “Hillary” juxtaposing two different women off of each other and poking fun at the things that were said about them. No one wants a woman who is powerful and masculine seeming like Hillary, but no one also wants one who is stupid and pretty like Sarah. I actually saw that skit live, and reading about it in the book, I realized that there was a lot more to it than I had realized when I first watched it. I guess that’s the power of comedy. I also felt a little ashamed that I always enjoyed the episodes where the actual character (in this case, the real Sarah Palin) comes onto the show with the fake character. Apparently in comedy they hate that.

The last bit that I really liked was the discussion of breast feeding. Specifically, all women who have at least one child are an expert and if you don’t do it the way they did it, then obviously you aren’t doing it right. I have found this the case with women in general. (I don’t have children and I don’t really intend to so I don’t know about the breast feeding) but women tend to be very judgmental of other women. Not only for their looks but also for their life choices. I am a firm believer in only giving your opinion when you are asked for it. And I am also a firm believer in bringing other women up rather than pushing them down. I work in a very male-heavy industry, and I know that I am not competing against the other women. I am competing against everyone, and since there are more men, and it’s an old school industry, I’m more so competing against men (and “the man”). So it makes no sense for me to sabotage other women to get ahead. I hope they get ahead too, so I have someone to talk about feminine hygiene products with. (JK, that’s a bit gross). I also try very hard to not be judgmental of people who have chosen other paths than I have. It is hard for me sometimes, but I do my best. I think more women should do the same. If we were all the same, wouldn’t the world be boring?

Lastly, I grew up a few miles off of Interstate 80 in western Pennsylvania. So the story about bringing all the country relatives to the big city struck home for me. I’m not sure everyone else appreciated this chapter as much as I did. But my point of reference made that part pretty funny.

Verdict: 3.5 stars
Honestly, I would rank the first part of the book like a 2.5 or 3. I did not really get into it or like it. The last part, I would easily rank a 4. I thought there were interesting stories and good points made in the book. I didn’t know much about Tina Fey before this book (I don’t follow celebrities. I have my own life to worry about.) which I think was good. It made the stories new to me. I do think that reading the book made me appreciate her more, and I am interested to see what her path is now that 30 Rock is over.

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Filed under 3.5 stars, Book Club, Book Review, Books

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

Book Description (Amazon):Image

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.

My Review:
Executive Summary: relevant

I was mandated to read this book by my husband since the movie is coming out at the end of this year. Apparently it’s a popular high school required read but I definitely missed it then. I usually like sci fi and I like being “in the know” about books. I’m kind of surprised it took me so long to read this one.

I actually started off really hating it. It’s definitely a “man book” in that there are only 3 female characters throughout the entire book and they all have some issues. I decided to push through my dislike of it and I am glad that I did.

The book starts out with Andrew (Ender) Wiggin having his “monitor” removed. The monitor records his life and feeds it back to the people at the International Fleet to determine whether or not he is a viable candidate. Both his brother and sister were checked and were found to not be acceptable (Peter was too disturbed and Valentine was too soft and emotional. Of course she was. She’s a girl 😉 ) so his parents were allowed to have a third. Ender is a small six year old who gets bullied a lot (you’d kind of think he would know how to handle bullies at school with a brother like Peter but I guess not) and he beats the snot out of this classmate Stilson to prove a point that he is not to be messed with and to prevent future bullying attacks. (Since he no longer had a monitor, he was on his own to defend himself.) Ender goes through a mental meltdown of becoming just like Peter (this is a recurring point.)

Colonel Graff from the International Fleet appears to take Ender to the Battle School. Ender agrees (his parents already agreed by having him in the first place) without much hesitation despite not being able to see his family until he is at least 12. We learn that the Battle School is a series of classes and military tactic games to prepare boys (only a few girls since evolution has worked against them) to help fight the buggers. We also first hear the name of Mazer Rackham who destroyed the buggers in the last battle.

On the flight to the school, it becomes apparent that Ender has better spatial intelligence than the other boys as he has figured out that in weightlessness, orientation is whatever you want it to be (aka there is no “up”). Graff realizes that Ender has figured this out and uses Ender to make the other boys feel stupid and therefore making Ender the object of bullying. A boy starts hitting Ender in the head and taunting him. Ender grabs his wrist and swings him through the ship, breaking his arm. Ender has another “oh no, I’m just like Peter” moment and he has successfully ruined any possibility of having friends (not really a big deal as he has no personality or sense of humor anyway.)

Ender figures out a way to sort of unite his group, including Bernard (broken arm kid). School is a series of video games and training exercises for battle. Ender (of course) wins the video game, getting past the giant who no one has ever gotten past by killing him (again woe is me, I’m just like Peter). Ender becomes the first “launchy” (aka newb) to be drafted into an army. He joins the Salamander army under the rule of Bonzo Madrid. He also meets the only girl mentioned to be at the school–Petra. While Bonzo is cruel to Ender, Petra teaches him all she knows. But of course, she’s not very good (eye roll) so Ender soon surpasses her. Ender creates an army of sorts during free play time, teaching the launchies what he has learned with his toon. He uses them to try new manuevers and practice his skills.

Ender eventually disobeys Bonzo’s orders of never firing his weapon during the battles and wins them the battle. Bonzo trades him to the Rat army where he falls under command of “Rose the Nose” and Dink Meeker.  Dink turns out to be a powerful ally and teacher and almost a friend (as close as Ender gets). Dink plants the seed in Ender’s (and my) head that there is more to this school and that the bad guys are actually the teachers. Despite Rose’s rule, Ender continues to teach the launchies during his free time, leading to a battle with the older boys which Ender and the launchies win.

Around the same time, Peter and Valentine decide to be political bloggers (although this is pre-blogging so it wasn’t called that). They feel they can influence this way due to their genius while hiding the fact that they are 10 and 12 years old. Valentine is Demosthenes and Peter is Locke. Valentine has mixed feelings about being powerful due to the fact that it is mostly Peter’s idea. Peter who tortured her and Ender.

Ender starts feeling sad for himself because no one likes him and the school has no point. Luckily Graff solicits Valentine to write Ender a letter to get him back on track. All her previous letters were kept by the teachers. Obviously Ender knows that it was a forced letter, but it still manages to do what Graff intended. Ender also “solves” a section of the video game where he has been stumped.

Ender is made commander of the newly formed Dragon Army. Most of the soldiers in his army are launchies, most notable of them a kid named Bean. Bean is a lot like a young Ender, and Ender uses this to his advantage. Bean is encouraged to think up new creative ideas to use against Ender. He stops using formations and has every platoon working on its own. He wins every battle by a long shot, making him no new friends. When he inevitably beats Bonzo’s stupid army, Bonzo is pissed and corners Ender in the shower (a bit homo-erotic?) despite Dink’s warning to never go anywhere alone. Ender beats Bonzo to a pulp to prove to Bonzo’s friends that he is not to be messed with (similarly to Stilson) and yet again has the “oh no, I’m just like Peter” reaction. Bonzo gets “sent home” and the instructors continue to be hard on Ender and his army sometimes having him fight two armies at a time or twice in one day. Finally Ender figures out that he doesn’t actually have to play their game and instead of actually fighting the battle, he creates a formation to get the mandatory amount of soldiers to the door as fast as he can to end the battle. And in response, he is sent to pre-command school.

The “authorities” have discovered that Locke and Demostrenes are actually children so they decide to just ignore them (I did too). Graff picks up Valentine after school because again Ender is lost and doesn’t want to continue his training. She talks to him and tells him that even though he’s young, he can make a difference and alludes to Peter wanting to rule the world. Ender continues to command school where he meets Mazer Rackham–the hero of the previous bugger invasion–who is going to be his teacher.

Ender goes through many simulations and learns from Rackham that the buggers are actually insect-like in their behavior. They have a queen who controls their decisions and they move from her. His last simulation is watched by Anderson, Graff and a few others and involves controlling a fleet of Dink, Bean, Petra, Alai and many others. At the sacrifice of many of his fleet, he explodes the planet with the “Little Doctor” (a large scale atomic bomb). After his final exam, he learns that it was not a game and he has just destroyed the entire bugger population. And he also learns that this is not the first time that he has killed. In fact, he already killed Stilson and Bonzo. (He is less distraught over all of this than I think that he should be.)

And then in 20 pages, the book wraps up. He learns that Peter has taken control of the world. He’s not allowed to return so he goes with Valentine on an exploration mission on planets previously inhabited by the buggers. He arrives on one planet to find that it looks identical to the video game that he played back when he was a launchie. When he arrives at the mirror where he was stuck for so long, he removes it to find a bugger’s queen pupa who explains that the buggers communicate mentally and she had been communicating with Ender (obviously he didn’t realize that) and he was communicating back with her since she created this world. (Um, how does that work since he didn’t realize he was communicating to the buggers? And also if he was communicating to them, how did they not know he was going to kill them?) He decides he should make up for destroying their race and takes the queen to find a planet where they could live.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

There are a lot of great things about this book. I was legitimately surprised by the twist in the story. I had thought the whole time that there were not going to actually be any buggers and that the teachers had made them all up. I also thought for a book written in 1985, it has held up shockingly well. The gaming and the Internet (especially the blogging) is very modern and took a surprising amount of forethought.

What I didn’t like was how anti-women the story was. Not only were there only two actual females in the story, they were both portrayed as weak. I found the storyline of Demosthenes and Locke disconnected and irrelevant to the rest of the story. And I found the ending to be wimpy and too quick (although perhaps finding a new home for the buggers is addressed in further books). Also, I found it a little ridiculous that Ender never ever once faltered at all. He was never beaten at anything ever. How realistic is that? And I didn’t understand how there was a mind link between Ender and the buggers. Or maybe just a partial one? I don’t know.

Also it took me a while to write this because I know this is such a hugely popular book. I went back through as I wrote this to review, and there are still gaps in it to me. If you have explanation of it that I missed, I would love to hear it.

Anyway, I have fulfilled my requirement of reading the book before the movie comes out. I’ll rehash and compare similarities and differences after I see it. 🙂

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Filed under 3.5 stars, Books